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NBA AM: Looking At The Free Agent Tiers

An early look at the 2016 NBA Free Agency class, by tiers… The Celtics want to be aggressive, but is there too much money out there?

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The Free Agent Tiers

While July 1 is still a bit down the road, it’s never too early to start looking at the free agent class, especially with so much money heading into the NBA free agent market this summer.

Recently on Twitter, I assembled something of a tier list of the top free agents, not just in terms of their current ability but in terms of how coveted they may be in July.

In total there are 270 players who logged time in the NBA this season that will have the chance to hit free agency in July. Some of those players hold team friendly option years, so they may not hit the market, but the bulk of the names on these lists likely are available to field offers come midnight on July 1.

So here is the top tier, listed in no particular order, including their current team and their salary last season.

The Top Tier

Rajon Rondo  Sacramento Kings  $9,500,000
Mike Conley  Memphis Grizzlies  $9,388,426
Jordan Clarkson  Los Angeles Lakers  $845,059
Dwyane Wade  Miami Heat  $20,000,000
Evan Fournier  Orlando Magic  $2,288,205
Kent Bazemore  Atlanta Hawks  $2,000,000
Kevin Durant  Oklahoma City Thunder  $20,158,622
DeMar DeRozan  Toronto Raptors  $10,150,000
Bradley Beal  Washington Wizards  $5,694,674
LeBron James  Cleveland Cavaliers  $22,970,500
Harrison Barnes  Golden State Warriors  $3,873,398
Chandler Parsons  Dallas Mavericks  $15,361,500
Nicolas Batum  Charlotte Hornets  $13,125,306
Al Horford  Atlanta Hawks  $12,000,000
Dirk Nowitzki  Dallas Mavericks  $8,333,334
Bismack Biyombo  Toronto Raptors  $2,814,000
Andre Drummond  Detroit Pistons  $3,272,091
Dwight Howard  Houston Rockets  $22,359,364
Hassan Whiteside  Miami Heat  $981,348

Here is the next tier, also listed in no particular order, including their current team and their salary last season.

The Second Tier

Deron Williams  Dallas Mavericks  $5,378,974
Ty Lawson  Indiana Pacers  $211,744
Mario Chalmers  Free Agents  $4,300,000
Norris Cole  New Orleans Pelicans  $3,036,928
Jarrett Jack  Brooklyn Nets  $6,300,000
Jeremy Lin  Charlotte Hornets  $2,139,000
D.J. Augustin  Denver Nuggets  $3,000,000
Brandon Jennings  Orlando Magic  $8,344,497
Austin Rivers  Los Angeles Clippers  $3,110,796
Mo Williams  Cleveland Cavaliers  $2,100,000
Shaun Livingston  Golden State Warriors  $5,543,725
Matt Dellavedova  Cleveland Cavaliers  $1,147,276
Seth Curry  Sacramento Kings  $947,276
Courtney Lee  Charlotte Hornets  $5,675,000
Gerald Henderson  Portland Trail Blazers  $6,000,000
Dion Waiters  Oklahoma City Thunder  $5,138,430
Jerryd Bayless  Milwaukee Bucks  $3,000,000
Wayne Ellington  Brooklyn Nets  $1,500,000
Lance Stephenson  Memphis Grizzlies  $9,000,000
Jamal Crawford  Los Angeles Clippers  $5,675,000
Eric Gordon  New Orleans Pelicans  $15,514,031
J.R. Smith  Cleveland Cavaliers  $5,000,000
Arron Afflalo  New York Knicks  $8,000,000
Jared Dudley  Washington Wizards  $4,375,000
Evan Turner  Boston Celtics  $3,425,510
Allen Crabbe  Portland Trail Blazers  $947,276
Joe Johnson  Miami Heat  $261,894
Jeff Green  Los Angeles Clippers  $9,300,000
Luol Deng  Miami Heat  $10,151,612
Maurice Harkless  Portland Trail Blazers  $2,894,059
Marvin Williams  Charlotte Hornets  $7,000,000
Jared Sullinger  Boston Celtics  $2,269,260
Jon Leuer  Phoenix Suns  $1,035,000
David Lee  Dallas Mavericks  $2,085,671
Terrence Jones  Houston Rockets  $2,489,530
Pau Gasol  Chicago Bulls  $7,448,760
Ersan Ilyasova  Orlando Magic  $7,900,000
Derrick Williams  New York Knicks  $4,400,000
Ryan Anderson  New Orleans Pelicans  $8,500,000
Zaza Pachulia  Dallas Mavericks  $5,200,000
Joakim Noah  Chicago Bulls  $13,400,000
Timofey Mozgov  Cleveland Cavaliers  $4,950,000
Marreese Speights  Golden State Warriors  $3,815,000
Festus Ezeli  Golden State Warriors  $2,008,748
Jordan Hill  Indiana Pacers  $4,000,000
Al Jefferson  Charlotte Hornets  $13,500,000

The third tier was a little lengthy and included a lot of players that were on ten-day deals. You can find the complete 2016 NBA Free Agent list here.

The Celtics’ Plan

While most NBA executives tend to bury their heads in the proverbial sand during the offseason, Celtics President and General Manager Danny Ainge continues to be one of the more visible and vocal executives in basketball.

Ainge sat down with WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Sunday night and revealed some of his thoughts on the draft and his team’s pending free agency windfall.

“I’m excited about the No. 3 pick,” Ainge said. “I would have been excited that night if you had told me before the night started that’s the pick we were getting. For a minute, I let my mind drift to getting the one or two. It certainly doesn’t have the same cachet in trade conversations of trying to get better quicker, so it sets that back or we would have to give up more than the No. 1 or 2 overall pick. But there are good players if we end up using that pick. We’re excited about the potential players.”

Most insiders believe that after LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram come off the board, the options for the Celtics could be wide ranging including international big man Dragan Bender.

“I can’t talk about any players in particular, but a player that is going to take time to develop or a player who may not come to the NBA for a year or two, if we feel he’s the best player we have to take him. We can’t let a player slip by us just because it doesn’t fulfill our immediate satisfaction, or the objective for the fans to see someone exciting,” he said. “We have to pick the best player under any circumstance. There are too many examples of really good players that fans haven’t been excited about. When Kristaps Porzingis was drafted by New York, fans were booing all over the place and we didn’t understand. When I was in Phoenix and we drafted Steve Nash, we were booed.

“You can’t base your decisions on what the public thinks and what other people think you should do. You just really have to use your experience, your work and eyes, and we communicate all the time the best road for us to go,” said Ainge.

The Celtics have a solid core of players, but Ainge understands being middle of the East isn’t good enough and that everyone involved wants to see significant improvement.

“Right now, we’re trying to become a better team as fast as we can without selling out. We want to become a more significant team this upcoming year, and at the same time we want to build something that is sustainable for a long period of time,” Ainge said.

“Ownership would like to see something happen faster and I know my coaches and players want to see something faster. I’ve been in their positions and I get it, I want to see something faster too. But I have to protect us from doing something irrational, from doing something that gets us a little bit better. If it’s something that gets us to being a true championship contender faster, we’re all for it. As long as it’s a sustainable formula and not a one-year quick hit, sacrificing future assets,” he said. “Everything depends on how much money a player wants, how many assets you have to give up to get that person. There are a lot of what ifs, and that’s what we’ll be doing the next six weeks, trying to figure out what’s available to us. The things we like to do we still have to find partners for, which is very challenging.”

The Celtics are one of 24 NBA teams that will have ample free agent money to spend, and while having cap space is normally a good thing, this year there may be too much money available to make smart deals.

“There is a lot of money out there because of the new TV contract that is kicking it. It’s going to be challenge and is sort of a new territory for the NBA. I think two-thirds of the league can offer at least one max contract, which has never happened before. We’re a team that can offer two max contracts, but there aren’t that many max contract players on the market. The competition is going to be fierce,” said Ainge.

“We have plans that we would like to do and that we’ll do everything we can to try and do, but there are no guarantees in any of that. It’s my job to pull the brakes back and make sure we don’t do something stupid that will hurt our team in the long run.”

The Celtics are one of the teams angling for a free agent meeting with Thunder star Kevin Durant and Grizzlies guard Mike Conley. Neither are expected to move from where they are, but the Celtics are hoping that another run through the draft, their current roster and the means to build around incoming free agents might be appealing enough for Boston to not only get a meeting, but win out a free agent frenzy.

The Celtics were one of the team linked to Atlanta’s Al Horford at the trade deadline and there is a belief that if Durant and Conley come off the board, the Celtics may have interest in Houston’s Dwight Howard.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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